After selling Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Corporation in 2012, George Lucas relinquished creative control over the Star Wars property. The movies that Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and the handful of writers would devise in the subsequent years departed from Lucas’ original ideas for Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. There was eternal gratitude to the legend for creating the property, but the future was not in his hands.
But there’s still a part of Disney’s mega-franchise that feels distinctly Lucas: The Clone Wars. The filmmaker handpicked animator Dave Filoni to oversee the animated spinoff of the prequel films, and from the show’s first episodes (sewn together as the theatrically released Star Wars: The Clone Wars) into the final batch, airing now and into May on Disney Plus, he’s carried a “created by” credit. The creator title isn’t totally superficial; as Filoni and Lucas explained in a 2018 Q&A conducted for the production staff, only now surfaced thanks to The Star Wars Show, Lucas pushed The Clone Wars team to make movies the way he would. They had to be big, they had to be character driven, and occasionally they have to be weird.
“There’s nothing forgiving,” Lucas said of his process for producing Star Wars on a TV level. “We weren’t making it for television, we were making it for the big screen. I said, ‘Think of this as a feature. Everything about it: Style, attention to detail, the lighting — everything is done at a feature level even though it’s going on television.’ Being young and impressionable, [Filoni] said ‘well you can’t do that.’”
Lucas’ wisdom: Do. Or do not. So they did it.
Filoni cites the season 2 episode “Landing at Point Rain” as one moment where Lucas’ expertise came in handy. The original animatic was “at first a total disaster” in terms of action, Filoni said. So Lucas had the animator and his team recut the storyboards with live-action footage from war films like Battle of the Bulge, The Four Feathers, and Battle Over Britain to bring a greater sense of velocity and tangibility to the Geonosian battle. Mimicking the footage helped the epsiode fall into place.
“After we cut that sequence, there were 600 more shots than they had in the first place,” Lucas said. “I always kept them on their toes.”
The most Lucas-y insight of the conversation emerged when the moderator asked both master and padawan to name their favorite Clone Wars episode. Filoni was reluctant, saying his favorites were any “ones that were least like any of the movies. That’s when we were being creative and challenging ourselves and being more like Star Wars.” Lucas proceeded to drag Filoni for not answering the question, before naming his own: “A Sunny Day in the Void.”
R2-D2, Colonel Gascon, and a fleet of other astromech droids crash land on the desert planet of Abafar. What follows is 28 minutes of experimental, existential dread, which is not what most people expect from Star Wars, let alone a cartoon aimed at younger audiences.
“It was THX white limbo in Star Wars land,” Lucas said of the episode.
“Who in the world would make that?” added Filoni of his initial bewilderment over the pitch. “You were describing this to us and I was drawing those images in the story meeting of these bleak landscapes and droids questioning if they were real. It was really bizarre.”
For Filoni, the greatest gifts Lucas imparted on him were movie recommendations and the belief that the answers on how to reinvigorate Star Wars were always in the movies. That’s how The Clone Wars wound up with everything from a Godzilla episode to a half-hour of zombie horror to a riff on Hitchcock’s Notorious. Lucas also pitched some ideas that were extremely George Lucas.
“Once you had us do a three-part arc on banking and banking deregulation,” Filoni said. “Because kids are so into that!”
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